A Miracle, Working


Ashley Carlo, Erin Esposito

When I first heard that 13 year old Ashley Carlo was going to play Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker I was concerned. It seemed like a difficult role for one so young. But perhaps my concern was based more on how young Carlo seemed to me, rather than her real age. Surflight producing artistic director Steve Steiner pointed out to me that 13 was about how old Patty Duke was when she originated the role on Broadway. And I realized that having seen her around Surflight for pretty much all of my six years as The Beachcomber’s critic, Ashley Carlo had been growing up in front of me without my realizing it, as kids are wont to do.

My fears were unfounded. Ashley Carlo’s performance as Helen Keller is something of a miracle in its own right. This is the kind of role that a youngster could easily turn into unintended parody. But Carlo is very close to perfect as the blind, deaf, mute and undisciplined hellion that confronts Anne Sullivan (Erin Esposito), the young teacher who is hired by Helen’s parents, The Captain (John Little) and Kate (Maggie Anderson). I’ve been a Maggie Anderson fan for a couple of years now and she did not disappoint me. This is the first year I’ve seen John Little and in the few performances I’ve seen of his he’s been uniformly excellent. The role of Helen’s elder half-brother James is the kind of role Andrew Foote could phone in but Foote works just as hard whether he’s got a few dozen lines or stars in the play.

All of the supporting players turn in good performances too including Michael Lewis as the Doctor who runs the agency that sends Sullivan to the Kellers, Carol Lambert as Helen’s persnickety Aunt Ev and even Jason Wooden, the company box office manager as a servant. I hadn’t been too crazy about Joseph Trainor’s set design for They’re Playing Our Song but I thought he got everything right in this case. His design for The Miracle Worker was both ingenious and appealing.

Speaking of ingenious and appealing, the true star of this story is the relationship between Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller. It’s almost as if director James Alexander Bond uses the two actors to create a third character: a confused and angry girl who somehow knows there is a world beyond if only she can find the way. As Keller and Sullivan found a symbiosis which lasted a lifetime so Carlo and Esposito forge a partnership in which each brings out the best in the other. Although their relationship in the play is dead serious, often contentious and always dramatic you can tell they are having the times of their lives--that they are loving what they are doing. I certainly did. I once said that if any of the many talented people at Surflight are truly Broadway bound, surely Erin Esposito is one of them. I’m sure Esposito would agree that young Carlo is bound to follow her, if not--at the rate she’s going,--lead the way.

The Miracle Worker played at the Surflight from October 3rd through the 6th at 8pm and October 4th and 7th, 2007 at 2 pm